Wistful Childhood Dreams

wistful dreams, childhood years,
caught in time, joyful tears,
memories hover in my head,
angels dancing, wings outspread.

no borders between realities,
ride the waves in the breeze,
then is now, and now is then,
back and forth, again and again.

grandma’s house now in view,
time tunnel opens, deja vu,
nighttime arrives, skies navy blue,
fireflies flicker, evening dew.

alarm clock rings, must arise,
in my heart, morning butterflies,
now is then, then is now,
face this day, i will somehow.

A Special Christmas in 1958

I was seven
Though big for my age
Still believed in Santa Claus
That wizardly wise, white-bearded jovial old man
Gifting the world each Christmas
With toys, candy-filled stockings, other things
Of which childhood dreams are made

We lived at 919 Indiana Street
In Martins Ferry, O-hi-o
A large two-story tan and gray house
With an old coal furnace
Warding off winter’s frigid bite
Belching smoke and soot
All about the snow-covered roof and yard

Christmas fell on a Thursday in 1958
So Santa made his long-awaited visit
On a Wednesday night
Prayer meeting night, as we knew it in my family
A special late night candlelight service was held
Honoring the Christ Child’s birth
That went on well past 11 PM

I was deathly afraid Santa would skip our house
On this particular Christmas Eve in 1958
For Dad’s blue ’52 Ford wouldn’t start
In the cold, snowy, now empty church parking lot
The old V-8 refused to turn over
That onerous clicking sound
Only a dead battery can make

My sister Diana howled in tears
The very thought we’d miss Christmas
Mom mad as a hornet
So many loose ends to tie before Christmas morn
Dad’s frustration showed in his face and hands
His dark hair blown in all directions
By the blustery winter wind

At precisely twelve midnight
Dad proclaimed we must walk home
Back then, no cell phones to call a friend
And so we did
We walked and walked
One dark street to another
All good children fast asleep in their beds

At first I thought I was hallucinating
The sound of sleigh bells
Bright lights coming directly our way
Mom exclaimed it was an apparition
A sign surely we’d die this unbearably cold Christmas Eve
Dad hushed us to be quiet
Look past our fear, see reality he said

No sooner had our outbursts stopped
When a horse-drawn sleigh pulled to the curb
A tiny little man, no more than five feet tall
Descended the sleigh, calling out to us “Merry Christmas”
I watched the two large horses’ frozen breath
Spout from their large flared nostrils
As Dad talked with the strange little man

Then with a single motion of his hand
The little man waved us all into the sleigh
Where a heavy burlap blanket awaited us
Which we promptly pulled over our heads
The little man, it turns out, a widower
No children to his name
Asked us to call him “just one of Santa’s friends”

I peeked from under the blanket
Catching an occasional word or two
That either Dad or the little man said
One thing I remember was their talk about real gifts
Those one man gives to another
No expectation of anything in return
All for the joy of just giving

Fifteen minutes later
The sleigh pulled up to our house
Our tree lights still shining in the front window
The neighbor’s cat perched on our front porch
Dad tried to give the man some money
He refused, saying give it to someone in need
Someone who needs the money

As Dad opened our front door
I watched the magical sleigh drive away
And as I fell fast sleep that Christmas Eve
The little man, his horses, and the sleigh bells
Danced through my head
Somehow I knew, deep down inside
I had already been given my best Christmas present

Boys Climbing Trees

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Some things always remain a part of you
Like when you were seven
And shinnied up your first tree
Like some starved Colobus monkey
In search of tenderoni leaves for lunch

Sooner or later, every boy climbs a tree
A rite of passage to manhood
Maybe to see the world from a higher place
Or just because the tree was there
Teasing you silly in the hot mid-morning sun

My first a massive sprawling oak
Jutting out our weedy backyard
Into the red brick alley
Where wood frame garages and steel garbage cans danced
On howling winter nights

I climbed high way up
To the big “y”
Where I perched for nearly five minutes
While my friends below
Proclaimed me a hero

While half the tree remained unexplored territory
I reveled in my accomplishment
Tomorrow was another day
A chance to climb higher
Seeing even more of the world’s vastness

Once the neighbor’s cat, chased by a maniac dog
Darted up the big oak, climbing too far too fast
The fire department was called
To retrieve the terrorized calico
From the high branches

We boys gathered to watch the rescue
Lasting twenty long minutes
Because the cat wouldn’t budge
Till assured its canine assailant was clearly gone
And control of the world returned to the cats

Somehow you just knew
That 1958 would always be
A watershed year in your life
Preparing you for higher climbs
Bigger life adventures ahead

To Be Young Again

Thoughts race backwards…
when I was a boy

There were challenges
but mostly adventures
not necessarily problems
Growing up issues you outgrew

Life was simpler, certainly than now
Less money, more freedom
Fewer commitments, more open road
Not quite Jack Kerouac freedom, but
lots of room for imagination, and fun

Ideas came easier then
Wild ones, like
being the best baseball player ever, or
a famous world adventurer
Back then, it was ok
imagining beyond your reach
Now, I’m not quite sure

No retreating from the present
Things are great, just different
More people and things to consider
even around small decisions
That’s what adults do, I guess

It’s ok to play hooky…
at least once in a while
Let that inner child dream, play
imagine something beyond his reach
Hey, maybe I’ll be a millionaire

Fourth of July

Now it seems
after the Fourth of July
the summer scoots by so much faster,
making us almost wish the Fourth away.
But as a young boy,
July 4th was long and eagerly awaited,
and then summers lasted an eternity.
Always then,
up before the hazy sunrise.
Boundless energy
exploding in all directions.
Rapid-fire machine gun firecrackers
breaking the morning’s silence.
Sweltering heat at noon
as we guzzled gallons of cool-aid.
Pick-up baseball games,
badminton matches, and horseshoe contests
throughout the inexhaustible day
that went on and on.
Dips in and out of the pool
and even a run through the sprinkler.
Favorite aunts hugging you
and begging you to tell
about your secret girlfriend.
How did they know?
Maybe because they were
secret girlfriends at one time.
Picnic plates filled with things we still love
but won’t allow ourselves to eat today.
Barbecue smoke wafting across backyards,
whetting our insatiable appetites.
Uncles, tipsy from much beer, telling bawdy jokes
kids shouldn’t hear, but always they did.
Excited laughter
giggling through life’s usual humdrum.
Magical fireflies twinkling yellow
in the alluring darkness,
prompting our chase
long after bedtime.
Skies graced with exploding rainbows
and mesmerizing color extravaganzas.
And best of all: Sweet dreams
and painless happiness everywhere.

The Night Grandma Died

Three wonderful years
Grandma lived with us
when I was in high school
in St. Clairsville.

She died one cold January night,
which I will always remember
as a night that took our breath away.
The night that made me realize
that life is so precious to us
because we have only so much of it.

In the back bedroom,
that used to be my room,
she cheerfully lived with us.
Never a bother.
Always a joy.
Always willing to help
as best her arthritic hands could.

She died in my bed–
the bed I slept in
for two-thirds of my childhood life.
The bed that stayed warm
even long after she had departed.
A warmth that assured me
our love for each other
would never die.

She cried out just once
before her last breath, and then
the house grew stone silent,
as we sat around her bed,
without words,
waiting for the ambulance
to take her small empty body away.

She was gone
and we knew it,
but still we needed to hear
someone else say the words:
she’s gone.

So much was unsaid
as they caringly took her body away.
I had questions,
but they wouldn’t bring her back.
So why ask them?

I wanted to cry
but wasn’t ready to
the night she died.
The next day,
as I touched her worn Bible
on the bedstand
she brought with her from her house,
the tears came.

I remembered her petunias,
that overflowed the green flower boxes
on her front and side porches.
And I remembered how
she never locked her doors
because she said
nobody could ever take away
what God has put in my heart.

I decided then that my life,
like my grandmother’s,
must be a blessing to others.
I knew then
that anything done in life with heart
makes a difference.
I knew then
that one of my jobs in life must be
to carry on my grandmother’s undying love.

When You Don’t Make the Team

Do you remember in fifth grade
when I didn’t make the basketball team
and you told me not to cry
because men don’t cry?

And do you remember telling me
that’s the way it goes. Just accept it.
That’s the way what goes?
Basketball? Life? My life?
And accept what?
That I can sleep in on Saturday mornings
instead of playing basketball with my friends?
My friends who sneered at me and taunted me
like I was some worthless piece of crap.
My friends who will be immortalized
by the school and the other kids
because they made the team.

You didn’t even ask if I came close.
I was the last to be cut.
Not the first.
I almost made the team.
Why do they pick just twelve players?
Why not thirteen?
Do they have just twelve uniforms?
I’ll work and buy my own.

You don’t even have a name
if you get cut from the team.
The coach just calls out the names
of the boys making the team.
I never listened so carefully in my whole life.
I can’t believe I didn’t hear my name.
Maybe the coach just forgot to call my name.
Should I ask him if he forgot to call my name?
I don’t understand what I didn’t make the team.
Was it because of the two shots I missed?
Was it because the other boys’ dads knew the coach?
Why didn’t I make the team?

So what am I supposed to accept?
That I am a total loser,
and my life will never amount to anything?
That basketball isn’t my sport,
and I shouldn’t bother to tryout next year?
My life is over
and it’s barely started.
And you don’t even care!

What do I do instead of crying?
Just hold it in?
Get angry?
Go out and practice my shots?
Maybe I’ll just stop trying to be somebody
or make something of my life.
Maybe I’ll just run away
to some other place, and another family.
One that cares about me.
One that understands me
and helps me figure out what to do
with all this pain inside
that won’t go away,
no matter how hard I try.

You could have said you were sorry
that I didn’t make the team.
You could have said you’d help me
be a better player.
You could have said you’d talk to the coach
and find out why I didn’t make the team.
You could have said there were times in your life
when you didn’t make the team,
and you survived the pain of rejection,
and over time you grew stronger.
That’s the way it goes?
Do I have to figure all this out myself?
Why don’t men cry?

Click here to hear me read this poem.
(I have used a new reading style with this poem. Please let me know what you think. Also, in my reading I provide some context for this poem.)

Dad and His Words

Dad always loved words–
long ones, short ones,
tall ones, and fat ones.
He especially adored unique words
ringing in your ears like musical notes.

He minced words every chance he got,
and he still does at eighty-five.
Good-spirited verbal volleyball was his sport.
No crossword puzzle was safe for long
when Dad had a sharp pencil in his left hand.
Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary was his best friend,
and Roget’s Thesaurus was a close runner up.

Dad loved writing poetry.
Not something most millwrights do
in their spare time.
Every morning the muse danced for him, and
there were poems about nature, the Holy Spirit,
and anything else lending itself to rhyme.
Yes, Dad liked rhyming poems best–
those sounding like harps, guitars and pianos.

Each poem, when finished, was always printed
ever so neatly in Dad’s best handwriting
with a blue ballpoint pen.
Much later, of course, he turned
to the old black Royal typewriter
that went clackety clack,
when its silver keys were pressed into action.

Yes, my Dad had a love affairs with words,
and everyone who knew him
knew of his passion for morphemes, collocations, idioms,
phrases, colloquialisms, and euphemisms.
And everyone was surprised
that a man turning wrenches for a living
could turn heads and hearts with his words.

Most of all,
Dad was a man of his word.
His word was never idle chatter
nor meaningless fill for empty spaces
on a page or in a conversation.
Like most men of their word,
Dad opted for silence
over promises he could never keep.

Thanks Dad for teaching me to love words
and for insisting that I live up to my word.

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